By Brandi Makuski
It’s been an unusual year for the Ageless Aviation Dream Flight organization, but this week, the group found a unique way to thank its corporate sponsors.
AADF takes military veterans, primarily seniors, on a “dream flight” to thank them for their service. Since its founding in 2011, more than 3,000 veterans have taken to the skies in a series of refurbished Boeing Stearman airplanes from the 1940s.
Much like Never Forgotten Honor Flight, AADF is working to reach the oldest veterans first.
Darryl Fisher, Director and President of the organization, says the experience is one the veterans never forget. Just a few days before coming to perform maintenance on an AADF plane housed at the Stevens Point Municipal Airport, Fisher said he heard about one such experience while standing in line at a local Kwik Trip.
“One of the guys standing in line was [the veteran’s] doctor, and he scrolled through two years of pictures on his phone to show me pictures of this man’s flight,” Fisher said. “The veteran was so happy and talked about what a great experience it was, and they blew up one of those pictures for framing. So this flight the guy took two years ago, it left such an impression on him that his doctor was talking about it as recently as two days ago.”
COIVD put a stop to this year’s regular Dream Flight schedule, as most of the veterans who take the flight are in their 80’s or older. Fisher said disinfecting commonly-touched surfaces of the plane is relatively simple, and while they’ve temporarily disengaged pilot-to-passenger audio in the planes—“the microphones can’t really be cleaned, so we just removed them,” he said—regular Dream Flights are an unnecessary risk for those in the high-risk category during the pandemic.
With a little help from local organizations, $125,000 was raised to purchase and recondition a 1943 Stearman biplane beginning in 2016. The Spirit of Wisconsin is housed at the city airport and features the logos of several local sponsors, including Falks Brothers Construction, Re/Max Lions Real Estate, Community First Bank, Guns N’ Hoses, and the Stevens Point Firefighters Local 484 Charitable Foundation, Inc.
Fisher contacted Assistant Fire Chief JB Moody the night before, asking if he’d be interested in taking a flight—a thank-you for the $5,000 donation from the department’s charitable fund.
Moody served two overseas tours as an Air Force medic and has been assistant chief at the SPFD since 2018. Fisher said Moody was the first veteran he’d taken up in 2020.
“I don’t even got the words for it,” Moody said after landing. Then, after a pause, he said, “I appreciate them giving me the ride. It was unreal, worth its weight in gold.”
Retires Police Chief Kevin Ruder also took a flight. Ruder, who retired from SPPD in 2015, is the co-founder of Guns N’ Hoses, a local charitable organization that raises money for local veteran causes. The group holds an annual police-versus-firefighters softball game and has held similar events at the Golden Sands Speedway in Plover.
Both events were canceled this year due to COVID, but since 2014 has raised a little over $30,000 for AADF.
“It’s just one small way to give a little bit back to the veterans who served this country,” Ruder said.